An epic example of strength, courage and compassion continuing to this day. Betty Williams is a great inspiration for all who seek peace. She was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on May 22, 1942. Betty’s life was strongly affected by the raging war in Ireland between the Protestant and Catholic factions. Her grandfather was thrown down into the hold of a ship under construction because his son was marrying a Catholic woman. Her cousin was gunned down at his front door by Protestant extremists when he was only 18 years old. Another cousin was killed by Catholic extremists who had booby-trapped a nearby car.
Like most her age, Betty picked a side and joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but she would not last long before her compassion for mankind exposed the dark and destructive reality of war.
After comforting a British soldier who she witnessed being shot, her Catholic neighbors began to criticize her for showing sympathy to “the enemy.” A few years later, she was first to respond when British officers fatally shoot an IRA member who was driving a car. The car veered off the road and onto the sidewalk, killing three children. Moved by the scene, Betty decided enough was enough and put her life and any standing she had in the community on the line to end the violence.
In less than two days Betty had collected over six thousand signatures then lead a march of 10,000 Protestant and Catholic women to the graves of the children. The march was disrupted by the IRA who felt the act of compassion was a sign of weakness to the British. A week later she led a march of over 35,000 people to end violence in Ireland. Betty then teamed up with Mairead Corrigan (the aunt of the three victims) to devise a planned and coordinated effort to end violence. The organization they founded is The Community of the Peace People.
“But the deaths of those four young people in one terrible moment of violence caused that frustration to explode, and create the possibility of a real peace movement…As far as we are concerned, every single death in the last eight years, and every death in every war that was ever fought represents life needlessly wasted, a mother’s labour spurned”.” (Betty Williams Nobel Peace Lecture) http://gos.sbc.edu/w/bwilliams.html
Betty William’s nonviolent resistance to the war raging around her inspired many to follow, and eventually became one of the main reasons for the end of the war. Countless lives were saved through her actions and bold efforts. But the end of the conflict in Ireland was not the end of her efforts for peace. She realized early on that the cause of war is not the trivial things people rally around, but rather the alienation and barriers we have that allow us to hate another human being.
“We believe in taking down the barriers, but we also believe in the most energetic reconciliation among peoples by getting them to know each other, talk each other’s languages, understand each other’s fears and beliefs, getting to know each other physically, philosophically, and spiritually.” This Betty argues, is the only way we won’t consider harming another.
Currently, her aim is at changing the hearts and minds of the world’s youth. Among her many efforts, Betty now heads the Global Children’s Foundation and is the president of the World Centre of Compassion for Children International.
These organizations help feed, heal and educate children around the world who have been affected by war. Their current goal is setting up a children’s safe-haven centers for children who are trying to escape the ravages of war and government aggression, to give them a voice, training in peace and a future.
Betty Williams is a hero dedicated to changing the way we think about the world and the people we share it with.